Press Release

IACHR Takes Case Involving Guatemala to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

September 17, 2014

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in case 12,788 – Residents of the Village of Chichupac and Neighboring Communities, Municipality of Rabinal v. Guatemala. The Commission determined that the events in this case were part of the genocide perpetrated against the Mayan indigenous people in Guatemala, crimes for which to this day no one has been made to answer.

The case concerns massacres, extrajudicial executions, torture, forced disappearances and rapes against the members of the village of Chichupac and neighboring communities in the Municipality of Rabinal, perpetrated as part of the operations carried out by the National Army and its collaborators during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala. The victims in this case are 32 persons tortured and massacred on January 8, 1982, and other 39 persons tortured and extrajudicially executed in various operations in Chichupac and neighboring communities of Rabinal between 1981 and 1986. They were all civilians who were completely defenseless at the time of their detention, torture and execution. Eight others were disappeared between 1981 and 1984, all of whom had last been seen in the custody of State agents. Their whereabouts are still unknown. Furthermore, two women were raped on January 8, 1982, and November 22, 1982; another woman was the victim of multiple rapes between October 1982 and June 1985. She was also the victim of forced labor in the “Chichupac model village” on orders from members of the National Army. The Commission also found that the survivors of the village of Chichupac and neighboring communities were victims of forced displacement. It also found that the egregious violations committed in this case were compounded by violations of the right to honor and dignity, the right to freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of association, the right to property and political rights.

The facts of the case were part of a State strategy intended to annihilate an ethnic group by means of military operations in which thousands of Mayan indigenous persons were slaughtered, the survivors forced to flee and their subsistence economies destroyed; lastly, thousands of Mayan indigenous persons were intentionally forced into living conditions that made them dependent on the military structure. The facts of the case constituted part of the genocide perpetrated against the Mayan indigenous people in Guatemala. More than three decades have passed since the events of this case; more than two decades have passed since the first complaint was filed, and yet no one has been made to answer for these crimes.

The Inter-American Commission referred case 12,788 to the Inter-American Court on August 5, 2014, after concluding that the Guatemalan State had failed to comply with the recommendations made in the Commission’s Merits Report. In that report the Commission had recommended that the Guatemalan State make adequate reparations for the human rights violations, in the form of material, moral and cultural damages; that it identify the executed and disappeared victims and provide whatever is needed to continue the identification process and return the victims’ mortal remains; and that it conduct an impartial and effective investigation within a reasonable period of time to establish the facts, identify the intellectual and material authors of the crimes, and impose the penalties prescribed by law. The Commission also pointed out that it is the responsibility of the State to order the appropriate administrative, disciplinary or criminal measures for the actions or omissions committed by state officials who were instrumental in denying justice and enabling those responsible for the events in this case to go unpunished, or who intervened in measures to obstruct the proceedings being conducted to identify and punish the responsible parties.

The Commission referred to the Court’s jurisdiction those actions and omissions that either occurred or continued to occur subsequent to March 9, 1987, the date on which the Guatemalan State accepted the Inter-American Court’s contentious jurisdiction. The Commission pointed out that the forced disappearances continued and continue to occur subsequent to that date, as do the failure to identify the victims’ mortal remains, the forced displacements and related violations, and the failure to conduct a diligent and effective investigation and to make full reparations to the victims, their family members and the survivors for all the human rights violations that this case involves.

This case will give the Court an opportunity to issue its finding on Guatemala’s National Reconciliation Law and its inapplicability for these types of crimes. The interpretation of the National Reconciliation Law is solidifying the structural impunity that exists in Guatemala with respect to the serious human rights violations committed during the armed conflict. The State of Guatemala is obligated under international human rights law to persecute and sanction all gross violatinos of human rights, and no domestic law may serve to justify noncompliance with the duty to investigate and guarantee access to justice. As the Inter American Commission and Court have repeatedly stated, the laws that leave serious human rights violations in impunity are incompatible with the international human rights obligations of the States.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 100/14